No matter what the courts do with North Carolina’s new congressional district map, the area that was once a deep-blue secure district for Democrats, and specifically for Rep. G.K. Butterfield for the last 18 years, is likely to be a competitive congressional seat over the next decade.

A decline in the African-American voting population and the complete abandonment of the Democratic Party by many rural voters makes keeping North Carolina’s rural northeast congressional district a Democratic stronghold unlikely.

As currently drawn by the General Assembly and in dispute in court, the 2nd Congressional District that covers 14 northern and eastern N.C. counties is shaping up to be the one to watch. Candidate filing is currently on hold after the Democrat-leaning N.C. Supreme Court shut down filing and delayed all state primary elections until May 17.

The high court wants a trial court to rule on the merits of two ongoing redistricting lawsuits by Jan. 11. It has not been announced when candidate filing will resume, but the N.C. State Board of Elections says that about 1,400 candidates statewide were able to file during the three-day window when the process was open. Those candidates “will be deemed to have filed for the same office” in the May primary.

Republicans across the region are energized by the prospect of a competitive congressional race for the first time in decades.

“I am optimistic that we will have a vibrant primary, and I am confident that our GOP voters will select a strong candidate to turn District 2 red,” said Harvey West of Washington, N.C., the GOP congressional district chair for the region. “We have a real chance to have Republican representation for the first time in a long time. This will be a close race next November, and I think the desire for conservative leadership and the real possibility for change will galvanize Republican activists in the area to man the phones, knock on doors, and make a difference.”

Democratic state Sen. Don Davis of Pitt County recently announced his campaign for the 2nd District seat, which largely covers a region represented by the retiring Butterfield.

“My entire life I have heard and recognized the call to serve,” said Davis. “That calling led me to serve my country in uniform for eight years in the United States Air Force. As the youngest mayor of Snow Hill at 29, I worked to rebuild my hometown by strengthening our economy and re-investing in decades-old infrastructure projects. I knew then, what I know now — that our government should work for the people.”

Davis lives in Greene County, which makes up only 2.75% of the new district. The district does not include the populous Pitt County, which Davis has long represented in the legislature.

The new district is rated as leaning slightly toward Democrats but is clearly winnable by either major political party and is by far expected to be the most competitive N.C. congressional seat in next year’s general election, should the current maps survive legal challenges.

Davis will have plenty of competition on the Democratic side, including current state Rep. James Gailliard, D-Nash, and former state Sen. Erica Smith. On Nov. 23, Smith withdrew from the U.S. Senate race and announced her campaign for the redrawn 2nd District. Before mounting bids for the U.S. Senate during the last two election cycles, Smith represented Beaufort, Bertie, Martin, Northampton, Vance, and Warren counties in the state Senate, all of which are in the new 2nd District.

“This district hasn’t been represented by a Republican since 1882,” Smith wrote on Facebook. “This year, our Republican state legislature gerrymandered this district to a toss-up. They think this is their year, but I won’t let it happen.”

Gailliard is in his second term representing most of Nash County in state House District 25. He is senior pastor and CEO of Word Tabernacle Church in Rocky Mount,

In an interview with Carolina Journal, Rocky Mount Mayor Sandy Roberson talked about his efforts to capture the GOP nomination. Roberson, 53, was elected mayor in 2019 with significant Democrat support.

“First and foremost, we need a member of Congress who is responsive to the needs of the district. We simply have not had that with Congressman Butterfield,” said Roberson.

“I will offer the voters in the Second Congressional district, a pragmatic, common-sense, get-it-done approach to government,” Roberson said. “I will use my background in business and health care to focus on the issues that impact agriculture, rural economic development, and free-market-based, patient-choice health care solutions. We cannot borrow ourselves into prosperity. We must get a handle on spending in Washington. We also cannot have an open border because we cannot afford the negative impacts we see from illegal immigration. I think a common-sense conservative can perform well here.”

In an unusual twist, GOP voters will have two candidates with the first name Sandy to choose from. Also seeking the GOP nomination is Sandy Smith of Pitt County, who has received support from Rep. Madison Cawthorn and national security adviser Michael Flynn. She lost to Butterfield in the 2020 general election by 8 percentage points, or about 29,000 votes.

In addition to facing a candidate who shares his first name, the Rocky Mount mayor will have another competitor with a similar name, first-time candidate Brent Roberson of Williamston.

Running as a political outsider and “conservative tech entrepreneur,” Brad Murphy of Warren County is also filing in the GOP primary. Murphy is the CEO/founder of Gear Stream Inc., a software company. He also refers to himself as a “new economy visionary.”

“COVID has given us all new perspective,” Murphy told CJ in an interview. “It does not matter if you are left or right, nobody is happy. Everything is broken. I think it is time for people who are not polluted from being in Washington, who can bring practical solutions to solve problems.”

“I think there is an opportunity to mobilize sensible tax policy and create a thriving new economy for the rural economy,” Murphy said. “People ask me why I want to be a congressman. Well, I don’t. However, it is the best way I can help transform the economies of rural North Carolina for the digital economy, making District 2 the envy of the nation and a template for closing the wealth and inequality gap between urban cities and rural America.”

Laura Pichardo of Pelham has also announced that she intends to run for the GOP nomination.